The meaning of necessity in a broader sense is something that we can’t live without. For example, when saying that a decision was necessary to be made, it means we don’t have a choice under those circumstances, the decision had to be made to accomplish some end. In the book, Machiavelli used necessity mainly referring to political necessity, so if a leader like the prince wants to accomplish his goals, he must use a certain method no matter whether it’s good or bad, which is how he ends up teaching evil. However, even if it seems completely immoral that he would be willing to do anything, there is some level of good to his actions, because he mainly tends to justify his actions with “necessity” when they are to accomplish a good goal, which tends to be to obtain order and stability in his country, creating a moral dilemma.
Thus, it can firstly be said that while we can observe some type of knowledge of morality from Machiavelli in the Prince as he differs between good and bad and focuses on having good end goals, he still believes that if bad things need to be done to achieve the maintenance of power, they should be done, so the end justifies the means (which is a good representation of his moral theory, that’s why most people define him as amoral). This is a clear representation of the moral dilemma in the Prince, where bad deeds have the potential to produce good effects, and good deeds may have bad consequences, so it’s hard to know what is the better choice. Machiavelli in the Prince believes that doing a bad thing is acceptable when it can be justified by it being a necessity to achieve what he wants and is a positive goal. But even if someone’s final goal isn’t fully evil, like maintaining power by achieving goodwill for your subjects, when to do it you take part in evil actions and find a way to justify it, you are promoting and making those actions acceptable, even if the general intention isn’t to do something bad or hurt people but to accomplish a different goal, which can sometimes be selfish but not necessarily evil. Nevertheless, many times his focus and motivation are very self-centered and selfish, because even if sometimes his end goal is a positive one like goodwill for his subjects, the hidden reason is for him to maintain power.
Thus, he partly uses the “necessity” of creating and preserving the state’s internal order as a pretext for teaching evil because he thinks that someone needs to learn not to be good to maintain power; for example, he finds it justifiable to kill all opponents and as viciously as possible to scare them away so they won’t try to rebel.
Consequently, it can be said that he was a teacher of “evil”. In the passage given to as to analyze he practically says that those who focus on being good will be the ones losing at the end and will be worse off, so he is directly saying that it’s not worth it to live our lives trying to be as good and moral as we can. This argument can also be backed up to help show how Machiavelli teaches evil by the fact that through the book we can see how he supported many horrible actions to achieve certain goals; for example, Machiavelli advocated murder as a policy instrument and beliefs that it is a justifiable act. This shows many immoral actions and a big part of his character, as he is practically saying that it’s okay to murder someone if you find a reason to, even if you just think they may try to murder you later on but are not completely sure or have no proof.
These points will be shown by analyzing and connecting to this idea the text where Machiavelli focuses on the idea that a prince should try to be feared and respected not necessarily loved, the text where he wrote “being disarmed makes you despised”, and the speech by an anonymous leader of the popular revolt of 1378 in “Florentine Histories”. All these texts help support the main argument about Machiavelli being the teacher of evil and it explores more the moral dilemma presented.
In the Prince, Machiavelli focuses on arguing that the Prince’s focus should be to perfect the art of war, to make sure that no matter what, they would win and be prepared, and like that maintain their power. For Machiavelli, it is a necessity for the Prince to prepare for war because “being disarmed makes you despised” (Machiavelli, The Prince , 1532), which the sentence will be explored furtherly later. In the Prince, they put a focus on showing that a leader’s main job is to make the hard decisions that help accomplish good for his subjects, they shouldn’t focus on being liked necessarily, but feared and respected as that is how they will maintain power and provide stability.
Machiavelli’s teachings rest on necessity as virtu. The concept of virtu is the qualities praised by others like generosity; for him specifically it’s the qualities that a prince should have to “achieve great things” and “maintain his state”, showing that there is a difference between Machiavelli’s virtu and the conventional use of virtues. He believes that a prince should at least always try to appear virtuous, but that doesn’t necessarily mean act virtuously as it can be detrimental to the principality. Also, in the Prince, he prioritizes doing everything necessary to maintain power, so for example, be flexible and capable of switching conduct from good to evil and back again. (Machiavelli, The Prince , 1532)
Thus, I think a large part of his actions focus greatly on princely power and the state because the definition of necessity helps show he’ll do anything for power and to keep it. Even if he can conduct upright actions and be liked by the people, he promotes that it’s better to do worst acts and be feared, which teaches evil.
Moreover, it is important to discuss the limits that “necessity” implies because it means that if the Prince justifies an action with it being a necessity, it means that it must be done without question, which can end up being problematic if it interferes with other actions of the state. As Machiavelli used “necessary” to justify certain actions or boundaries for how people should live, this created a limit of the things that people could do and work with. For example, they say that it is necessary for the prince to use cruelty sparingly and appropriately but that he should not seem to oppress the people and should appear merciful and human, the problem is that those greatly restrict the possibility of decisions that can be made and actions that can be conducted, as you have to make sure that an action fulfills all restrictions not just one (but some of the limits mentioned earlier for example can easily oppose each other), making it harder for people to work within those limitations of one’s self and social ones.
A way in which we know that Machiavelli strongly uses “necessity” for arguments like the end justifies the means, is when he argues that to remain in power a prince needs to focus on avoiding the hatred of his people. So, he needs to earn their respect, in a way it can be to be loved, but even better to be feared. He strongly focuses on differing between feared and hatred, which can cause a prince’s downfall.
So, the key point is that Machiavelli believes that a prince should do whatever is needed to achieve his goals; he explains it by using the example where he chooses to be feared instead of liked to earn the respect of his subjects and manage to stay in power, and where he doesn’t object the use of cruelty or evil acts to obtain that goal.
Nevertheless, apart from the main idea of focusing on being feared and respected to maintain power, another idea that Machiavelli normally puts forward is on the utility of cruelty, where he believes that the use of cruelty is a good idea to achieve one’s goal if it doesn’t interfere with the long-term goodwill of the people. This is an interesting argument because it seems like it could clash with the other point stated above, but when looked closely it doesn’t because while it may feel like using cruelty may end up in hatred and loss of power, he believes that it is sometimes necessary to achieve the goodwill of the people as it can help achieve fear and order, which can be the best way to keep power and avoid foreign aggression by keeping people well, as sometimes it needs to be used in scenarios like war.
So, this argument helps us understand how Machiavelli believes the prince shouldn’t do things that will result in hatred, such as taking away property from others, as that can result in a cease of his power. However, he believes cruelty can sometimes be acceptable to achieve being loved or feared as that will help keep power. This shows a lot about his morality because he understands the difference between good and bad and says to overall want to achieve goodwill for the people, but it’s complicated because the process isn’t a positive one and his objective of obtaining goodwill wasn’t necessary to do good for the people and bring happiness, but because it helps ensure stability and maintain power. Thus, even though his end goal of goodwill or of being respected or loved isn’t necessarily evil, this text shows how most of the times he ends up teaching evil through the Prince’s actions that he promotes should be done in his line of work as part of his responsibilities, as he does whatever is necessary to maintain political power.
Moreover, another moment where we can observe how Machiavelli ends up using the Prince as a pretext to teach evil is when he says, “being disarmed makes you despised” (Machiavelli, The Prince , 1532). This shows how he thinks that it is vital to stay prepared for war, and in a case where he suspects someone will try to bring him harm, he will attack first. This is not a peaceful political theory to carry, as it promotes violence and evil; it shows a clear example of how Machiavelli thinks that a bad deed like attacking someone or appear threating can have good consequences like protecting your state.
So, the key point in this argument is that Machiavelli again sees necessary to do whatever is essential to maintain his position, even if it’s a problematic action, he explains it by using this example where he promotes always being prepared to fight and explaining the importance of being armed. This action promotes aggression and non-peaceful ways to deal with issues, so it helps backup him being a teacher of evil.
Lastly, we can find another example of Machiavelli teaching evil in other books like “Florentine Histories”, where in a speech by an anonymous leader of the popular revolt of 1378, the leader tries to convince his followers that after the violence they have committed it would be an error to stop, as to have their old evils forgiven they need to commit new ones. This shows a clear teaching of evil from Machiavelli, as he is directly advocating that a good political strategy is to keep committing evil acts instead of trying to balance the bad with good deeds, and he finds a way to justify this continuous evil acts and violence and show how it is the best way to achieve their goals. (Machiavelli, Florentine Histories, 1532)
However, it is important to also acknowledge counteragents to the main thesis. For example, even though Machiavelli can be portrayed as the teacher of evil, as mentioned earlier he always seemed to have a positive and upright final goal, such as stability in his state or goodwill for his subjects, which in a way shows him promoting positivity. But that is only a small percentage of his actions, most of his persona still revolts around him teaching evil through what he says should be done, like when he says the Prince’s work includes being prepared for war and can include cruelty.
Overall, it can be strongly argued that Machiavelli was a teacher of “evil”, as he focused mainly on teaching how someone can justify bad actions and cruelty by viewing as a “necessity” to do “evil” acts to achieve one’s goals. As well, his actions and mentality clearly portray a moral dilemma, as he brings about the idea that good deeds can have bad consequences and the opposite, so it’s hard to decide which is the better option as both seem problematic and have negative sides. His final goals aren’t necessarily to do evil, as many times he aspires to achieve order and stability for his state, but he still tends to end up teaching evil by advocating that it is okay to do certain immoral actions to achieve those objectives.